Mesdames Abroad- Part One

Welcome to our new series of travel blogs, Mesdames Abroad, looking at different destinations with a writer’s eye. This month we feature Mme. Catherine Dunphy and her experience running a Scottish bookshop. A retired journalist (do journalists ever really retire?), Cathy is the author of Morgentaler, A Difficult Hero, which was nominated for a Governor General’s Award, two YA novels and numerous radio and television scripts. Her short stories appear in Thirteen and Thirteen o’Clock.

THE TOWN THAT BELIEVES IN BOOKS

Cathy Dunphy

I have just discovered the most perfect place on earth. I was there a week and it rained – hard – most days, but I didn’t care. I was in Wigtown, named Scotland’s National Book Town–an honour the townspeople fought hard for because they thought books would save them.

Isn’t this wonderful? Imagine a town that believes in books.

Let me backtrack a little: In the summer of 2015, I came across a squib on the CBC Arts website about how you can have an AirBnB holiday at The Open Book, a second-hand bookstore. You work in the store and live above it.  Sold, I said. This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid reading Enid Blyton under the bedcovers.

The fact that it was in southwest Scotland? Let me just say I can still sing most of the score of Brigadoon.

My husband was not as enthusiastic and this may be why it took two weeks of incessant nagging for him to book the sucker – and by that time the first available week was December 11-18, 2016. We were lucky to get in. These days The Open Book is booked three years in advance.

People come from all over the world to be  booksellers in Wigtown. A log upstairs in the cheerful apartment overflows with their thrilled notations of great restaurants in town, great people in town, day trips, the superb shortbread delivered by Nanette, and, of course the customers.

We didn’t have too many of those, I’m afraid. The week before Christmas is the slowest time of the year for secondhand book sellers, I was told by the other bookstore owners.

But we weren’t lonely. Wigtowners were as curious about us as we were about them and they took to dropping in when we finally got around to opening up the place. That was usually around 1 p.m., right after placing our take-away orders at The Rendezvous across the street for their soup of the day and their wonderful burnt bacon rolls.

By our second day, their staff were dashing through the rain to deliver us our food. That’s the kind of town it was. One of the pubs had a blazing fire and a good wine list and a bartender who refused to take a tip. The bar also had Ming Books, Scotland’s only night- time bookstore. Meaning it wasn’t open in the day.

Wigtown won a contest to become Scotland’s National Book Town in 1997. They won it because they needed it – the creamery and the brewery had both closed up — and because it was a pretty medieval town undiscovered by tourists.

Plenty of booksellers flocked to Wigtown to set up shop. At its prime there were 22 book or book related establishments. Not so now. But those who stayed seem to be doing all right. The Book Store says it is Scotland’s largest used book seller and boasts of more than a mile of shelving. The ReadingLasses has one of the country’s finest selections of lesbian literature. Beltie Books stocks books about Scottish nationalism; The Old Bank Book Store specializes in sheet music.

They are all sustained by the Wigtown Book Festival which draws thousands of readers and not a few authors to Wigtown each September.

Cathy minding the store!

So where does The Open Book fit in? It’s run by the Wigtown Book Festival as a non-profit. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bona-fide bookstore.  It’s cash only and there’s a lined school workbook where we recorded all sales.  About 6,000 tomes are shoved onto shelves that line the nooks and crannies of this small space.  There are some interesting reads by obscure explorers that my husband loved and a bio of Virginia Wade that tennis- loving me devoured. Our first customer bought three books for his grandchildren. He got them for a steal because I knew I couldn’t make change.

I confessed this when one of the Festival volunteers  dropped by towards the end of our week. He just shrugged. “But you’ll have been having a fine time with all this here,” he said gesturing to the books on display, on the table, stacked on the floor, on the shelves.

“God, yes,” I said, looking around. I had been living with these books for a week. I was going to miss every one of them.

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Mesdames on the Move: June 2017

June is a busy month for the Mesdames leading up to our summer break when we’ll be doing what authors do – WRITING! 

Things get super-hot again in the fall with Word on the Street and Bouchercon 2017, the crime fiction world conference. And of course, the launch of our latest anthology, 13 CLAWS!

Stay tuned this summer for our 13 Claws cover reveal and details about our launch. You are all invited!

A Very Special Guest!

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Sisters in Crime celebrates its 30th anniversary this month: that’s 30 years of successfully promoting and supporting work by women crime fiction authors.  As part of the celebration, Toronto SinC welcomes a very special guest, investigative journalist and best-selling author, Hank Phillippi Ryan. Hank is also a former President of SinC’s Mothership.

On Thursday, June 15th, Hank will be signing books and meeting fans at Chapters/Indigo, 2300 Yonge St. from 3 to 6 pm, including her latest bestseller, Say No More.

 Afterwards Hank will be SinC’s guest of honour at their Jun meeting, Orchardview Branch, Toronto Public Library, 7 pm.  This is a rare opportunity to meet this distinguished investigative reporter who has helped hundreds of people and won multiple Emmy’s for her work.  There will also be cake!

Several Mesdames will be attending. M. H. Callway has the honour of introducing Hank to the SinC membership.

Limestone Expo!

Mmes M. H. Callway, Rosemary McCracken and Caro Soles are joining forces with Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime in the vendors’ room at Limestone Expo, the multi-genre expo being held in Kingston June 3rd and 4th.  This is the new conference’s third year and attendance and interest continues to grow.

Rosemary McCracken

M. H. Callway

Caro Soles

Caro Soles

More importantly, they will be sharing their knowledge and experience throughout the conference on the following panels: True Crime Leads to Fiction (an idea suggested by Rosemary); Driving the Reader Mad, Blurring the Lines: Cross Genres, Traditional vs Small Press vs Indie Publishing,  Killer Stories and When to Listen and When to Ignore Writing Advice. On Saturday, June 3rd, 1 pm, Caro gives her workshop on Writing the Historical Mystery.

Books, books, books!

Caro’s new book, A Friend of Mr. Nijinsky’s, is now available in both print and digital form. This  historical mystery, set during WWI, centres on the relationship between young Morgan Vanheusen and the celebrated dancer as well as kidnapping, mad Russians and the dark side of New York.

 Readings and Events!

Melodie Campbell

On Thursday, June 8th, 7 pmMme Melodie Campbell will be giving a talk on Advances and Royalties and Agents, Oh My! The Business of Publishing.  Melodie generously shares her knowledge with readers and aspiring writers through her creative writing course at Sheridan College. Be sure to catch her at the Burlington Public Library, Brant Hills Branch 2255 Brant Street, Burlington Ontario.

Lisa De Nikolits

Also on Thursday, June 8th, 7 pm, one of our favorite events, Noir at the Bar, Toronto, takes place at The Wallace Gastropub, 1954 Yonge St. just north of Davisville. Mme Lisa De Nikolits will be reading along with fellow crime writers Ryan Aldred, Rick Blechta, K.J. Howe, J. Kent Messum and Helen Nelson.

On Tuesday, June 13th, 2 pm, Mme M. H. Callway will be at the Beaches Branch, TPL, 2161 Queen Street East to give her workshop and encouragement to aspiring writers, How to Get Published.

And a week later, on Tuesday, June 20th, 6 pm, Madeleine will be visiting Mme Rosemary McCracken’s Novel Writing II class at George Brown College to share her knowledge on how to get published with Rosemary’s writing students.

Rosemary and Cathy at WOTS

On Wednesday, June 28th, 2 pm, the Mesdames visit the Annette Branch, TPL, 145 Annette St.  Mmes M. H. Callway, Lisa De Nikolits, Catherine Dunphy, Rosemary McCracken and Caro Soles will be reading from their latest works and discussing crime fiction with readers and fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Learn With the Mesdames Part 5

The Student Turned Teacher by Rosemary McCracken

This is another in our series on Mesdames who teach and also learn along with their students. This month we feature Mme. Rosemary McCracken, author of the Pat Tierney series. Rosemary’s most recent book is”Raven Lake” and she is at work on a fourth book in the series. She is also the author of numerous short stories, including The Queen-sized Bed which will be included in the  2017 Bouchercon anthology,  A Passport to Murder.

 

Rosemary McCracken

I’m several weeks into teaching Novel Writing II: How to Develop Your Novel in George Brown College’s spring program, and it’s one of the best classes I’ve ever had. The course is designed for adult writers who have started or are seriously planning a novel. Most have taken the college’s Novel Writing I: How to Start Writing Your Novel or an equivalent. The current class is a perfect size: eight committed students. They’re tackling crime fiction, romance and women’s fiction. No vampires or post-apocalyptic works—just as I was getting quite attached to those vampires!

When I was a student…

What I find so cool about teaching novel writing at George Brown is that, back in the 1990s, I was one of these students. Up to that point, I’d dabbled in fiction writing, but I needed a big push to commit to learning the craft. Ironically, that push came in the form of a course on how to make sense of investments, financial statements and taxation.

I had just started an editing position on the news desk at the Financial Post, and it had been strongly suggested that I take the Canadian Securities Course, the first step in training to become a financial planner or an investment manager. It’s a gruelling course, especially if you have a full-time job. For six months, when I wasn’t at work I was seated at my dining room table working on assignments and studying for a marathon three-hour final examination. I became thoroughly sick of my seat at that table and my view of the dining room wall. But as the final exam loomed closer, I vowed that when it was all over I would continue sitting in that chair—but working on something I’d always wanted to do but never committed to: writing fiction.

The CSC exam was held in the spring of 1992. To celebrate the end of the course, I enrolled in a creative writing course at George Brown College that started the following week.

What Inspired Me

Over the next few years, I took several of the college’s writing courses: short story writing with Nancy Kilpatrick, novel writing with Caro Soles, mystery writing with the late John North and dialogue writing with Nika Rylski. All terrific teachers and I learned a lot from them. I even saw my first short story published in the Winter 1996 issue of Room of One’s Own magazine (now titled Room).

And Now a Teacher

In 2003, I returned to George Brown as an instructor, teaching writing for magazines. I left after two semesters to devote more time to writing fiction.

Last year, I returned again to teach Novel Writing II.

I look at my class this term and I remember how I felt as a George Brown student: hesitant and unsure, wondering if I was attempting something I wasn’t cut out for. But there was always the hope that I’d make it.

The publishing landscape has changed enormously since then. Publishers have merged and dissolved, and few major publishers accept new writers. But a number of small publishing houses have emerged in recent years, and self-publishing is now an option.

Writing requires a long-term commitment and a thick skin. I’ve seen many writers give up. Financial, family and health reasons prevent some from continuing to write. And many grow frustrated with having their submissions rejected by agents and publishers.

I address this in my class. I share stories from my writing journey. I tell my students to consistently do the work of writing their stories and novels, and not compare themselves with others who seem to be getting ahead more quickly. Every writer has his or her own pace, and some stories take longer to tell than others.

I tell them to set achievable goals for this class. I suggest they aim to complete their novel’s outline, write another 100 pages, and have five to eight pages critiqued in every class. That’s a lot of ground they can cover in 12 weeks.

Just as my teachers spurred me on, my job is to motivate my students to keep doing the work now and in the years ahead. Because that’s the way writers become authors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mesdames on the Move-May 2017

AND THE WINNER IS:

For our upcoming anthology, 13 Claws, the Mesdames ran a contest for authors who had never before published a crime fiction story. We had a large number of quality entries so the decision was not easy.

We’re delighted to announce that the winning story is:

NIGHT VISION by Mary M. Patterson

The runners up:

 DANA’S CAT by Rosalind Place

THAT DAMN CAT by Marilyn Kay

All three stories will appear in 13 Claws – and we welcome Mary, Rosalind and Marilyn to a life of crime…writing!

 

UPCOMING EVENTS:

The Arthur Ellis Award Gala

The biggest annual event for Canadian crime writers, the Arthur Ellis Award Gala, takes place on Thursday, May 25th at the Arts and Letters Club, 14 Elm Street, Toronto.

The CWC annual general meeting will be held at 5 pm, followed by a reception at 6 pm. The awards banquet, where the winners of the 2016 Arthurs are announced, will begin at 7 pm.

Tickets are available through Crime Writers of Canada. Contact Vicky Blechta at info@crimewriterscanada.com

 

The Bony Blithe Minicon

The Bony Blithe Award was created by  Cheryl Freedman and Caro Soles to celebrate the best in Canadian light mysteries. This year’s winner will be announced on Friday, May 26th as part of a new all-day event, the Bony Blithe Minicon.

 

Caro Soles

Cheryl Freedman

Cheryl Freedman

The Bony Blithe Minicon will feature panels, discussion groups, loot bags and good eats. The fun begins at 11 am and runs through to 9 pm at the High Park Club, 100 Indian Rd, Toronto.

The winner of the 2016 Bony Blithe award will be announced over dinner.

Mmes Jane Burfield, M. H. Callway, Melodie Campbell and Rosemary McCracken have already registered and are ready to party! Tickets are available through the Bony Blithe website here.

 

Publication and Author News

Rosemary McCracken

Melodie Campbell

Big congratulations to Rosemary McCracken! Her story, The Queen-sized Bed, will appear in this year’s Bouchercon Anthology, A Passport to Murder.

And Melodie Campbell’s launch of her latest Goddaughter adventure, the Bootlegger’s Goddaughter, was a smash success. Mel donated all her book sales proceeds for the evening to the Hamilton Literary Council.

The best reward: two formerly illiterate women who had learned to read via the literacy council, read a section of dialogue from Mel’s new book. Mel presented each of the ladies with a full set of Goddaughter novellas .

 

Lisa De Nikolits

Mme Lisa De Nikolits received exciting news this week: in November she will be the Writer in Residence for Open Book Toronto.

Lisa will focus on 16 Shades of Noir, where together with fellow crime writers, she’ll examine noir crime fiction from its origins to  modern day interpretations.

 

 

Events and Readings

M. H. Callway

On Thursday, May 18th, 6:30 pm,. the Mesdames are welcomed back to Mt. Pleasant Library, 599 Mt. Pleasant Rd, Toronto for an evening of crime fiction! Mmes Rosemary Aubert, M. H. Callway, Mel Campbell and Lisa De Nikolits will be reading from their latest books and discussing Canadian crime fiction with mystery fans.

Catherine Astolfo

Cathy Astolfo

Cathy Dunphy

On Tuesday, May 30th, 2 pm, the Mesdames pay their first visit to the Beaches Library, 2161 Queen Street East, Toronto. The event was organized by Catherine Dunphy who will be moderating the panel: Catherine Astolfo, M. H. Callway, Lisa De Nikolits and Rosemary McCracken.

 

More News

And an sneak preview of June – another very busy month. M. H. Callway, Rosemary McCracken and Caro Soles will be attending authors at Limestone Expo in Kingston, Ontario, June 3rd and 4th. Limestone Expo celebrates all genre writing from romance, crime,  fantasy, speculative fiction and horror. This year both Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime will have booths  to celebrate crime fiction.

For more information on registering for Limestone Expo use this link here.

 

 

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Learn With the Mesdames Part 4: A Pleasant Summer Sojourn!

Summer Learning: A Most Pleasant Sojourn 

By Rosemary Aubert

This is another in our series of blogs by Mesdames who teach and also learn, along with their students. This month we feature Mme. Rosemary Aubert, author of the acclaimed  Ellis Portal series. Rosemary is a two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis award for crime fiction, winning in both the novel and short story categories. A collection of her short stories, The Midnight Boat to Palermo, was published in the fall of 2016  by Carrick Publishing.

For ten years I had the pleasure of conducting a course on novel writing in the summer. It was an intense all-day, five-day workshop for “mature” students in a community college near a small Ontario city surrounded by beautiful waterways, rural landscapes and romantic islands. Students stayed on campus at residences and often met for breakfast, lunch, and at least on one evening of the week, for a special dinner shared with students studying other subjects, such as art.

Among the many teaching experiences I have had, which began over fifty years ago when I was a twenty-year old teaching religious instruction, this experience was surely one of the best. Not only were the learners extremely eager, but the atmosphere was just the right combination of serious and casual. We wore leisure clothes, we gathered around a table to teach and learn, we shared coffees… It was great.

Of course, I learned a great deal about what is required to make such a comfortable atmosphere of maximum benefit to my students.

What are the main challenges in teaching mature students?

Here are a few things I discovered:

  • People who engage in vacation learning have looked forward to your course it for a long time—often from one summer to the next in the same way as people look forward to their single week at the cottage. For this reason, it’s essential to understand that expectations must be clear from the course advertising and that those expectations must be met or exceeded so that there is no disappointment.

 

  • Many of these students have very limited time to spend on their learning and they’ve chosen to spend it with you, so you’ll want them to feel that their time is well spent.

 

  • Unlike school and university students, these students are primarily customers, and like all customers, they expect to get what they pay for, and the provider must expect active resistance if they don’t get it!

 

  • Unlike school students, adult learners are equals with each other and with you. This has to be borne in mind in order to elicit the confidence necessary in the adult teacher-student relationship.

 

What strategies work really well?

I have always found that highly interactive teaching methods have worked best with adult learners. We sit around a table, we discuss material when it’s presented by the teacher, we engage in questions, opinion-sharing and debate. This means the teacher must be fully familiar with all aspects of topics presented but must also be willing to learn a thing or two once in a while!

 Such a highly interactive method of teaching guarantees that the topics studied are those most interesting to the students. However, the teacher must always have a definite plan that can be steered back toward. You always have to be aware of keeners, know-it-alls, and would-be executives who try to steer the other students toward their objectives rather than yours.

 

What is the best advice for teachers of mature students?

 It pays to be really nice but to always clearly know what your objective is and what you want your students to be thinking about. Sort of like a real estate agent…

 A successful teaching/learning experience only requires two things: One who knows and one who wants to.

 I can’t think of anywhere where you would be more likely to encounter this situation than in a well-prepared short summer course for adult learners.

 

 

 

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Mesdames on the Move–April, 2017

THE ARTHUR ELLIS AWARDS ARE COMING!

 Arthur Ellis Finalist

The  biggest night of the year for  Crime Writers of Canada (next to the Arthur Ellis banquet itself) will take place Thursday, April 20th when the shortlist for this year’s Arthur Ellis Awards will be announced. In Toronto the event will take place at Chapters/Indigo Bookstore, 2300 Yonge St., at Yonge and Eglinton, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Simultaneous events will take place in  five other Canadian cities.

The Toronto evening will begin with readings from crime writers, including Mme. Lisa de Nikolits. Lisa will read from her latest novel, The Nearly Girl. The nominees will be announced in our May blog and the awards will be presented at the Arthur Ellis Awards banquet, Thursday, May 25th, to be held at the Arts and Letters Club, 14 Elm St., Toronto.

 

BONY BLITHE AWARD IS COMING!

Mme Cheryl Freedman sends us this message:

Cheryl Freedman

Cheryl Freedman

The Bony Blithe Shortlist!

Hey, all you fans of cozies, capers, and light mysteries! Mark your calendars for Thursday, April 13, when the 2017 Bony Blithe Award shortlist will be announced.

 

And set aside Friday, May 26, for the Second Annual Bony Blithe Minicon & Award Dinner. Bony Blithe’s tribute to the late, great Bloody Words will be even bigger and better this year with the event running from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.  – 10 full hours of merry mayhem – at the High Park Club in Toronto. Lunch, dinner, panels, dealers room, and more are all included in the $65 registration fee.

We’re in full planning mode for the minicon right now. More details about registration and the event itself coming soon. Our new Website is currently under construction, so like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bonyblithe/. We’ll post info there and let you know when our new Website is up.

 

NEWS and READINGS!

Rosemary McCracken

Tuesday, April 11th, Mme Rosemary McCracken’s creative writing class, Novel II, begins at George Brown College. The course runs through to June 27th. If you want to learn the tools and secrets of successful novel writers, this course is a must. You may use this link to register.

 

 

Rosemary Aubert

Thursday, April 20th will be a busy day for  Mesdames Rosemary Aubert , Lisa de Nikolits, Rosemary McCracken and M. H. Callway, who  will be reading at the Coxwell / Danforth Library, 1675 Danforth Ave. at 2:00 p.m.  Then it’s off to the Arthur Ellis Shortlist announcement in the evening.

 

Lisa de Nikolits

 Wednesday, April 26th, Mme Lisa de Nikolits will appear again with the East End Writers’ Group at S. Walter Stewart Library, 170 Memorial Park Ave., East York. Meetings run from 7:00 to 9:15 pm. Writer Sharon Crawford is the chairman of the group.

AND THE WINNER IS:

 On Sunday, April 30th, the Mesdames will have their own big announcement–the winner(s) of the short story contest for best unpublished mystery writer(s). The story or stories will appear in the Mesdames new anthology, 13 Claws.

 

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL INDIE BOOKSTORE!

This year’s Authors For Indies, where Canadian authors help out at independent bookstores, will be held on Saturday April 29th. Mme. Melodie Campbell, will be at A Different Drummer Bookstore, 513 Locust St., Burlington at 4:30pm.

Note: The launch date for Melodie’s latest book, The Bootlegger’s Goddaughter, has been rescheduled for April 18th at the Ancaster Branch, Hamilton PL,

Mme Lisa de Nikolits will be at Book City in the Beaches, 1950 Queen Street East, from 11:00 till noon.  Mme. M. H. Callway  will be at the Village Bookshop, Main Street, Bayfield, Huron County painting bookshelves and chatting to customers!

Melodie Campbell

Melodie Campbell

M. H. Callway

NEWS FROM MME. CARO SOLES!

Caro’s new novel, A FRIEND OF MR. NIJINSKY, is now available as an ebook and the print edition will be out in April! The novel takes us back to 1916 in New York City.

Young man about town, Morgan Vanheusen, is not a big ballet fan, but when the great Nijinsky arrives in New York in 1916, he is stunned by the mesmerizing performance of the brilliant dancer. So intrigued is he that he braves his father’s wrath by helping the dancer steal away from his family’s estate during a charity event. An unlikely alliance blossoms and Morgan becomes known as ‘a friend of Mr. Nijinsky’. Suddenly doors open for him and he grabs the opportunity to get back to racing the motorcars he loves. But as the young American is drawn in to Nijinsky’s paranoid world, he is pulled into a murder investigation and discovers a side of his city he never knew existed. Then his sister is kidnapped by a mad Russian and only his new ‘friend’ can save her. Can Morgan count on the eccentric dancer to rescue his sister?

What they are saying:

In 1916, New York City quivered on the brink of the modern era. With elegant prose and exquisite period detail, Caro Soles transports the reader back to that complex world, weaving a subtle, utterly enchanting story of betrayal and murder amid the swirl of debutante soirees, motorcar racing, Russian ballet, and social upheaval. —Barbara Fradkin, award-winning mystery author.

A hundred years after Nijinsky’s arrival in New York, Caro Soles serves up a heady, high-octane cocktail of intrigue, death, and desire with this novel about a secret chapter of the dancer’s career. A racy read, in every sense of the word. —Steven Saylor, author of Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome.

 

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Learn With the Mesdames Part 3: The Accidental Teacher

This continues our series by Mesdames who teach. This month we feature Mme. Sylvia Warsh, who writes about her experiences working with seniors. Sylvia is the author of the Dr. Rebecca Temple series. Her novel Find Me Again won an Edgar award. Her short story, The Emerald Skull, featured in Thirteen, (Carrick Publishing) was nominated for an Arthur.

 

 

How did you become a teacher?

I never intended to teach, and at the start, had to be persuaded. I had inadvertently become the facilitator at the Forest Hill Writers who met Saturday mornings at the Forest Hill Library in the 1970s, then moved to Barbara Frum Library for the ‘80s and ‘90s. This was a workshop group of a dozen or so who read their work aloud, and sometimes devolved into tangents and conversation that, though interesting, would divert us from the feedback we all wanted. I must have been the most impatient one, because at some point, I began asking people to move along and became the de facto facilitator.

A lovely older woman named Cecile Jackson, who was part of that group, told me that she also attended a creative writing class at a seniors’ centre and that their teacher was leaving. She asked me if I wanted to apply for the job. I told her I was a writer, not a teacher and I wouldn’t know what to do. She said I was already doing the same thing at our meetings and that I would be fine.

Tell us how your teaching career evolved.

The Bernard Betel Centre for Creative Living turned out to be a lively place with a hands-on coordinator who was committed to keeping the creative writing class going. I had to become an employee of the Toronto District School Board and eventually join a union.

I spent a lot of time preparing lessons and finding anthologies from which the students could read good stories to see what they were aiming for. We would spend part of the three hour class time taking up their assignments and part studying a story. After a while, the Wagman Centre at Baycrest and the Overland seniors centre asked if I could take over their writing classes.

For my first 15 years of teaching, a fair number of Holocaust survivors came to my class, wanting to write their memoirs. These were remarkable people who had been through hell and wanted to be witnesses to what they had seen and experienced. Six of them went on to publish books. Demand has fallen since then, the down side of teaching seniors who are more prone to illness and mobility issues; three hours have become two. I have lost many students over the years, and I only teach at the Betel centre these days.

What is a typical class for your seniors?

Mostly, people come to the class in order to keep their minds active. Work out their little grey cells. I don’t lecture in class, but run it as a workshop. I give a short lesson on various points of writing: how flaws make a character real in a story, or how to jump right into the action at the beginning of a piece, or the pros and cons of different points of view. Then I assign an exercise for them to work on at home.

Most of the class is taken up with the students reading his/her assignment out loud, then discussion with feedback. If someone brings poetry, I ask them to bring copies for everyone so they can better understand and critique it. Some people will bring in longer prose and give me a copy which I mark up while they read.

I’m always on the hunt for interesting books on writing from which I can glean tips for future lessons and assignments. I have found over the years that though talent is innate, writing skills can be taught. People’s writing will improve if they are willing to work at it.

What have been your biggest rewards in teaching?

My greatest satisfaction comes when a student says they’ve learned a lot in my class. In the process of teaching various aspects of writing—having to break down lessons into sections on character, setting, point of view, dialogue, use of strong verbs, etc.—I have learned along with them. I used to write by the seat of my pants, but now I have a better idea of where the controls are.

Some of my students have been with me for 20 years. I have heard all about their families and their childhoods from their writing and I feel great affection for them. Many have met with tragedies, have lost siblings and babies when young, and in their elder years, spouses. Yet they carry on and entertain themselves (and me) with their writing. I’ve learned that each person is a unique library of experiences and knowledge that will never be reproduced. Each person has something important to say.

 

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Mesdames on the Move -March 2017 – An Update

130926-scary-catCALLING ALL NEW CRIME FICTION AUTHORS!

Only 5 days to submit your crime fiction story to 13 Claws. The deadline for submissions by authors previously unpublished in crime fiction is March 15, 2017.  Check the tab on this website for submission rules!

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Mme Lisa De Nikolits shares the details on her upcoming salon event at Mt. Pleasant Library on Thursday, March 30th at 6:00 to 8:00 pm.

And earlier on the same day, Mt. Pleasant Library, one of the Mesdames’ big supporters, celebrates its 25th anniversary from 2:00 to 6:00 pm with an open house and refreshments!

Good things all happen at once and on the same day we have the first new book launch of 2017 in Ancaster. See below!

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FIRST NEW BOOK OF 2017!

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The Mesdames are delighted to announce the first new book of 2017, The Bootlegger’s Goddaughter, by our Queen of Comedy, Melodie Campbell.

Melodie Campbell

Melodie Campbell

Mel’s launch will be held on Thursday, March 30th at the Ancaster Branch of the Hamilton Public Library, 300 Wilson St. East, Ancaster, at 7 pm. This will be a fun evening with readings and a prize for best mob costume.

Mel is a great supporter of adult literacy and all the book sale proceeds will go to the Hamilton Literacy Council. This is a fabulous event not to be missed!

 

READINGS AND EVENTS!

Spring is definitely in the air with lots of events and readings this month.

Lynne Murphy

Lynne Murphy

Catherine Dunphy

Cathy Dunphy

Rosemary McCracken

Rosemary McCracken

Lisa de Nikolits

Lisa de Nikolits

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 7th, 7 pm  – Mmes M. H. Callway, Lisa De Nikolits, Catherine Dunphy, Rosemary McCracken and Lynne Murphy visit the St. Lawrence Branch of the Toronto Public Library at 171 Front St East for readings and a panel discussion.

Thursday, March 9th, 2 pm – Mme M. H. Callway gives her workshop on How to get Published at Wychwood Branch, TPL, 1431 Bathurst St., Toronto.

Jane Petersen Burfield

Jane Petersen Burfield

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M. H. Callway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, March 16th to Sunday, March 19th – Mmes. Jane Burfield and M.H. Callway will be attending Honolulu Havoc, Left Coast Crime 2017 in beautiful Hawaii!  They are both delighted with their panel assignments. Friday, March 17th, Jane will be on the short story panel, Compact and Powerful. Saturday, March 18th, Madeleine will be on the thriller panel, The Gorgeous Outdoors, Rugged and Dangerous.

 On Thursday, March 16th, Jane and Madeleine join fellow Canadian crime writers  Cathy Ace, Robin Donald, Marilee Robson and Loreth Anne White in hosting an author – reader event celebrating CANADIAN crime fiction!

They promise a write-up of their fun and celebrations when they return from the tropics.

ALOHA!

 

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LEARN WITH THE MESDAMES PT.2: Scary Stuff, Kids! Tips on Talking to Schoolchildren

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CALLING ALL NEW CRIME FICTION AUTHORS!

The deadline for submissions by authors previously unpublished in crime fiction  to 13 Claws is barely a month away on March 15, 2017.  Check the tab on this website for submission rules!

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M. H. Callway

M. H. Callway

This week, Mme M. H. Callway reports on her latest adventure: presenting her thriller, Windigo Fire to a classroom of Grade 8 students. You have to stay scared to stay sharp. Here she shares some tips on staying ahead of the class!

How did this adventure come about?

Our good friend, Steve, approached me about doing a talk at his son’s school.  I said yes then thought: what did I just do? What’s scarier than facing sixty 13-year-olds trapped in library class. Well, erm, nothing!

 Steve’s son, Francis, had picked my novel, Windigo Fireas his Canadian novel for his school book report. His English teacher, Ken, read it and loved it – and so did some of Francis’s classmates. When Ken  invited me to meet his students to talk about my book and the life of a writer, I couldn’t say anything but YES!

12000831_10154197942864018_1649104801334232488_oI was a little worried that I might be playing Officer Stodenko to Ken’s Sister Mary Elephant (see Cheech and Chong in Wikipedia, younger readers), but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as an author. Good thing though that I could draw on my experience as a retired management consultant doing focus groups, seminars, sales pitches, etc. and winning over skeptical clients.

 

 

 

Here are some observations and tips for the unwary author embarking on their first school talk:

  • Kids are smart, Marv!

Remember how Harry and Marv, the two bungling burglars were outwitted by 8 year old Kevin in the movie comedy, Home Alone? Because the burglars thought kids were stupid. Do not underestimate the tough, intelligent and insightful questions kids will throw at you. They have no qualms about asking you how much money you made on your book, why you write for so little money, why you let publishers tell you what to do, why you don’t just self-publish and so forth. 

Tip: Be prepared for hard-nosed questions and have your answers ready!

  • Break the ice early!

There’s nothing worse than a disinterested audience. Silence is deadly. Kids are shy at first. After all, you’re a grown-up and a figure of authority. I broke the ice right away by asking the class who wanted to be a writer. Who was working on a book right now? It didn’t take long to unleash a flood of questions.

Tip: Break the ice by asking about their writing. And ask about their favorite books.

  • It’s all about respect!

From the kids’ point of view anyone over 25 is O-L-D. At the same time, kids respect anyone who really knows their stuff, is confident and doesn’t talk down to them. Assure the kids that you value their opinions and that you consider every question they throw at you to be a valid one.

I found that making the session an interactive one worked really well. Lectures don’t work in our digital world where attention spans are short. I bled the info out to them by answering “long” to certain questions like: “Who decides what your book cover will look like?” And occasionally, I tossed a question back to them.  For example, they asked “How did J. K. Rawlings get rich?” So I asked them what they thought. It surprised them that they already knew the answer. (Hint: It’s movie rights.)

Tip: Try to answer every single question. A challenging question often leads to a good discussion.

Tip: Make the session interactive and keep the lecture part short.

  • Learning is a 2-way street!

You will learn as much from the kids as they do from you. I learned that they read almost exclusively on I-pads. E-readers are passe, but printed books are still cool.

I never dreamed that Windigo Fire could work as a YA read, but the kids loved it. But then I realized that my protagonist, Danny is young and my second protagonist, Rachel is a 10-year-old kid. To my surprise, their favorite character was Santa, one of the villains. I really enjoyed giving Santa a hard time when I wrote the book – he fails at driving a Prius and he’s outfoxed by Rachel – and the kids did, too.  It was a no-brainer which section I chose to read to them.

Tip: Keep an open mind and you will be happily surprised by what you will learn.

Tip: Give students a choice about which pages you read.

  • The teacher is your best friend!

One reason my visit worked so well was because of Ken, the teacher. We planned the session together and he kept things moving by throwing in a comment or a question. Teachers can also rein in some of the more extroverted students.  Ken is working on a children’s book so it was great to meet and exchange information with another writer.

Tip: Plan your visit with the teacher beforehand.

At the end of my talk, the students presented me with a wonderful card they had all signed and a keepsake globe. A new world really awaits.

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Students card

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Mesdames on the Move February 2017

Friday, Feb.3  Speed Dating for Writers and Librarians !   

The Ontario Library Association will be holding its Super Conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front St. West. A bevy of Mesdames will be appearing during the Crime Writers of Canada event beginning at 1:00 p.m. Mesdames M. H.  Callway, Lisa de Nikolits, Melodie Campbell and Rosemary McCracken will each have two minutes to tell the librarians about their  most recently published books or  novels in the works. Let’s hope many successful relationships ensue.

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M. H. Callway

Melodie Campbell

Melodie Campbell

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa De Nikolits

Rosemary McCracken

Rosemary McCracken

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 Claws is Coming!

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A friendly reminder about our contest for previously unpublished crime writers. The deadline for entries is only six weeks away on March 15, 2017.   See this website for submission details.

The winner or winners will have their stories published in our upcoming third anthology, 13 Claws.

 

Readings and Events!

Sunday, Feb. 19th, Lisa de Nikolits will be taking part in the prose reading series, Junction Reads, at 392 Pacific Ave., Toronto. The event begins at 5:00 p.m. Lisa will be reading from her latest book, The Nearly Girl.

Thursday, Feb 16th  Two great events are happening on this date and several of the Mesdames will be in attendance at both.

Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter welcome award-winning author, Kelley Armstrong creator of five supernatural series and a new crime fiction series, featuring Casey Butler. Meeting at Northern District Branch, TPL, Room 200, 40 Orchard View Blvd., 7 pm. There is a $5.00 charge for non-members.

The first 2017 Noir at the Bar Toronto takes place at 7 pm at the Wallace Gastropub, 1954 Yonge St at Davisville. Features readings by six leading crime writers, including Peter Rozovsky, the founder of Noir at the Bar who is visiting from Philadelphia.

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